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A cautious outlook from aluminum company Alcoa Inc. weighed on markets Wednesday as it reinforced investors' concerns about the global economic recovery.
Alcoa kicked off the latest round of earnings reports with a warning that demand for aluminum was lower than anticipated largely because of a slowdown in China. That dominated market sentiment despite slightly better earnings from the company.
"The company's somewhat cautious outlook for the coming months chimes with the IMF's downgrade to global growth," said Chris Beauchamp, market analyst at IG.
On Tuesday, the IMF reduced its growth forecast for the world economy to 3.3 percent this year from the previous estimate of 3.5 percent. Its forecast for growth in 2013 is 3.6 percent, down from 3.9 percent three months ago and 4.1 percent in April. The IMF also reiterated its concerns over the crisis in the eurozone and warned that the recession in Spain was worse than it thought.
Global growth concerns have been one reason why market sentiment has been depressed so far this week. Analysts expect earnings for Standard & Poor's 500 companies to be lower than a year ago — the first time that has happened in almost three years.
"Pundits have been suggesting this would be a rocky round and so far they're not wrong," said Fawad Razaqzada, market strategist at GFT Markets.
In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 0.5 percent at 5,781 while Germany's DAX fell 0.4 percent to 7,207. The CAC-40 in France was 0.4 percent lower at 3,370.
Investors in Europe are waiting for a decision on whether aerospace and defense companies BAE Systems PLC and EADS NV will merge. Expectations are that political concerns will put an end to the link-up before a regulatory deadline later Wednesday.
Wall Street was poised for a subdued opening with both the Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures down 0.2 percent.
Earlier in Asia, stocks posted losses, with the exception of mainland China, where shares rose on hopes that Chinese authorities were readying measures to help reverse the decline in growth in the world's second-largest economy.
The Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.2 percent to 2,119.94 while the smaller Shenzhen Composite Index added 1 percent to 880.37.
Elsewhere, Japan's Nikkei 225 index tumbled 2 percent to its lowest close in two months at 8,596.23. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.1 percent to 20,919.60. South Korea's Kospi dropped 1.6 percent to 1,948.22.
Currency markets were subdued with the euro down 0.1 percent at $1.2857 and the dollar barely higher at 78.30 yen.
Meanwhile, oil prices gave up some of the gains made Tuesday, when investors were worried about supplies from the Middle East and the North Sea. Benchmark oil was down 48 cents to $91.90 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.